Review: Deafness brings family interaction into focus

Discussions of deafness often focus on two almost mutually exclusive ''worlds'' - the hearing world, and the deaf world.

Fortune Theatre Studio
Saturday, June 15

Billy's parents, not wanting him to be defined as ''handicapped,'' have brought him up to lip-read and be part of the hearing world.

Now an adult, he's the quiet one in a household where there is always blaring, crashing or shouting going on.

Tribes, by Nina Raine, is about many things: families and the delicate, mysterious, invisible mechanisms that make them tick; the tremendously complicated ways in which human beings understand, misunderstand and identify with one another; and the mistakes made by people with the best of intentions.

It's also the first in the Fortune's ''True Grit'' series. Directed by Lara Macgregor, the production brings together a bunch of very fine actors. Christopher, the explosive, egotistical father, is played by Paul Barrett.

Mother Beth, confused but conciliatory, is acted by Catherine Downes. Sarah Thomson takes on the part of Billy's sister Ruth, who has operatic aspirations, and brother Daniel, who depends on Billy in ways that only gradually become apparent, is played by Ben Van Lier.

Nathan Mudge, as Billy, and Sophie Hambleton, as girlfriend Sylvia who introduces him to the deaf world, have the hardest tasks of all, succeeding brilliantly in demanding roles involving fast-paced sign language and the speech of people who can't hear properly.

Tribes comes with the recommendation of a world premiere at London's Royal Court Theatre.

Touching, memorable, candid, funny and painful, it goes well beyond being just another play about social problems or disabilities.

It's not recommended for anyone under 14, and may be unsuitable for adults with an ingrained aversion to coarse language.

Its provocative, brave intelligence makes it an excellent choice for everyone else.

- Barbara Frame 


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